The care of the aged who were without friends or resources was fully provided for in the Middle Ages by numerous 'hospitals', which were not then , as later they became, places where the sick were nursed, but refuges for those in need of food and shelter. The hospital pattern was that of the guest house for the poor, to be found at the monastery gates, although few of the independent foundations were monastic in origin, the majority having been founded by private benefactors or civic enterprise.
The Acts of Henry VII and Edward VI in dissolving the hospitals brought great distress to the poor, and in many places the buildings were brought by the towns and re-founded on a secular basis. Many benefactors also came forward to found new institutions which were often still called hospitals, although they increasingly took the form of almshouses. In the 18th century tended to become more institutional and less picturesque, but their accommodation often improved in size and convenience.